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Jasper says, O’Connor came in the night. We practiced.
Of course, O’Connor’s been dead the last year and a half.
In dreams, he and O’Connor play all night. Blue Grass, Folk, and Irish, like always. He says he can feel the frets and strings of his guitar pressing hard against his calloused fingertips, a satisfying pain. Muscle memory shapes his hand into chords as he sleeps. O’Connor picks a banjo, or blows soft on the Uilleann pipes, and when they sing, their voices slide over and between each other, slip beneath each other, lift each other up, rest on each other. Like a marriage, Jasper says. He weeps like a child when he wakes.
I wash him. Help him dress. Spoon soft food into his mouth, make sure he doesn’t choke. Wipe his chin, remove the soiled bib, take him to the toilet. Please, cries Jasper. Let me see O’Connor.
He wants release. I could help him. He’d welcome it.
People get married for all kinds of reasons. Jasper told me what his were: The public wanted to believe certain things about musicians working in traditional genres. He cared for me. He could give me security and I could give him…plausibility. It was a win-win.
I was young. I believed I could stand it.
That’s a lie. What I really believed was that I could change him.
Which of us was the bigger fool? The more egregious liar?
I put their last CD on, the one they made before the accident. I place the case in Jasper’s lap so he can look at the cover photo while we listen; a candid shot of the two of them in the studio, working. They hold their instruments tenderly, like children, like a pregnant woman might cradle her belly. She is handsome, she is pretty, she’s the belle of Belfast city, sing the two handsome men to each other. Tied up with the Black Velvet Band, they sing, gazing forever into each other’s eyes. Oh, Danny Boy. When I am dead, as dead I well may be.
There are pills on the bedside table. Jasper misses O’Connor. So much.
I walk outside, into the dark, cool silence of a late summer night, high up a mountain we practically own. We got rich after O’Connor died — richer yet when the public learned Jasper would never play again. I’d be a wealthy widow. I’d want for nothing.
And Jasper would be happy. Didn’t I want that? Wasn’t that all that was important?
It’s so quiet. No neighbors for miles, only me, Jasper, and the stars that promise innumerable dreams. Once I thought they might be my dreams. Turns out, they all star Jasper and O’Connor, alone.
Inside, I settle Jasper into bed. I reach for the pills. He is surprised, then smiles. Tonight?
I smile back. Pour the pills into my own mouth. A slug from a tumbler of Hennessy washes them down. Jasper starts screaming.
I guess there is something I want more than Jasper’s happiness. Something more than the love I wished for or the longed-for child, more than the lie that looked like a marriage. I want to see the hope die Jasper’s eyes as he watches me die. As he contemplates what the next few days of his own existence will be like, trapped and alone.
Like the pressure of strings against fingertips, that’s a pain that satisfies.
And in the end, he will get to see O’Connor. So it’s a win-win. Right?